NASA chief an­tic­i­pates an­other Soyuz launch

The Washington Post - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY AMIE FERRIS- ROTMAN amie.ferris-rotman@ wash­post.com

moscow — NASA’s top of­fi­cial sug­gested Fri­day that a new mis­sion to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion could take place this year af­ter Rus­sian ex­perts address the cause of a Soyuz rocket mal­func­tion, which sent the crew on a har­row­ing es­cape from the outer edge of the strato­sphere.

“I fully an­tic­i­pate that we will fly again on a Soyuz rocket, and I have no rea­son to believe at this point that it will not be on sched­ule,” NASA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Jim Bri­den­s­tine told re­porters.

That could mean an­other launch be­fore mid-De­cem­ber, when the three-mem­ber crew on the space sta­tion — an Amer­i­can, Rus­sian and Ger­man — was sched­uled to end a six-month mis­sion.

“No changes have been made. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is un­der­way,” Bri­den­s­tine added.

Rus­sian space launches were sus­pended Thurs­day af­ter the booster mal­func­tioned about two min­utes from liftoff — about 31 miles above the sur­face — with NASA’s Tyler N. “Nick” Hague and Rus­sian cos­mo­naut Alexey Ov­chinin aboard. Both men landed safely on the grassy steppes of Kaza­khstan af­ter jet­ti­son­ing away in their cap­sule.

Rus­sian rock­ets are the only way to reach the or­bit­ing lab­o­ra­tory, but Bri­den­s­tine said the rocket fail­ure — Rus­sia’s first such in­ci­dent in the post-Soviet era — had not tar­nished his view of the ven­er­a­ble Soyuz rock­ets.

“Not ev­ery mis­sion that fails ends up so suc­cess­ful,” he said, re­fer­ring to the safe re­turn of Hague and Ov­chinin.

The cap­sule’s para­chutes de­ployed, but the de­scent was steep and fast. NASA said Hague and Ov­chinin ex­pe­ri­enced more than six times the force of grav­ity be­fore tum­bling onto an ex­panse more than 200 miles from the Rus­sian-op­er­ated Baikonur Cos­mod­rome in Kaza­khstan.

Rus­sian tech­ni­cians are con­duct­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the rocket fail­ure. Bri­den­s­tine said they have a “re­ally good idea” about the cause.

“I think the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is go­ing to go swiftly,” he said, but gave no fur­ther de­tails on the pre­lim­i­nary find­ings.

Sergei Krika­lyov, the head of manned pro­grams for Roscos­mos, the Rus­sian space agency, said one of the rocket’s four boost­ers failed to sep­a­rate from the main stage. All Soyuz flights, both manned and those car­ry­ing vi­tal sup­plies such as food and equip­ment, have been sus­pended pend­ing the out­come of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Hague and Ov­chinin re­mained un­der med­i­cal ob­ser­va­tion Fri­day.

Re­call­ing the mo­ment Bri­den­s­tine re­al­ized some­thing had gone awry with the launch, he said hear­ing Hague speak Rus­sian con­firmed his fears.

“My im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion was, ‘ Things are not go­ing well. He’s not speak­ing English.’ ” Hague’s words — in which he de­scribed the sharp drop in grav­ity — were then trans­lated into English. All mem­bers of the Soyuz crew must learn Rus­sian.

Dmitry Ro­gozin, the chief of Roscos­mos, promised that both men will be given an­other chance to reach the space sta­tion.

“The boys will cer­tainly fly their mis­sion,” Ro­gozin tweeted, post­ing a pic­ture in which he sits with the two astro­nauts aboard a Moscow-bound plane. “We plan that they will fly in the spring.”

Bri­den­s­tine also heaped praise on the re­la­tion­ship Washington and Moscow en­joy in the fron­tier of space, free from the deep­en­ing po­lit­i­cal dis­putes “we have ter­res­trial.”

“To keep space sep­a­rate from the po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment has al­ways been our tra­di­tion, and we want to keep that go­ing for­ward,” he said.

“The boys will cer­tainly fly their mis­sion. We plan that they will fly in the spring.” Dmitry Ro­gozin, Roscos­mos chief, in a tweet

BILL IN­GALLS/NASA/REUTERS

The Soyuz space­craft is seen in this long ex­po­sure pho­to­graph as it is launched at the Baikonur Cos­mod­rome, Kaza­khstan.

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